Last winter was a particularly cold one, and I found myself wearing the same hat almost the entire winter — my only extremely warm one. It’s a burgundy wool cabled number which I then felted. So toasty, but a little variety would have been welcome to get through those stark, white and grey months.
This prompted me to take an inventory of my winter hats. I discovered I had one knitted band with embroidered flowers and beads that goes over my ears, one crocheted not very warm wool and silk beret, one thin knitted beanie, and a knitted beret which I’d call medium-warm — not suitable for below freezing temperatures but OK for the 30s and 40s. Clearly, I needed to knit myself a few more hats.
The other thing I’ve been wanting to do is dye some yarn! I read about using food coloring gel and the crock pot to dye yarn and my imagination kicked into overdrive. I love the idea of using food coloring, because it’s non-toxic at the small amounts used, so you can still use all of your pots, bowls, and utensils for food afterward. I had bought some when I was a new baker to experiment with, but didn’t use very much of it, so I had it on hand.
It all came together nicely: Karie Westermann released her Seaforth hat a few months beforehand, I had some undyed wool that was the right weight, and a Sunday which I knew was going to be rainy and indoor-sy. So I got to dyeing!
There are scads of dyeing with food coloring in the crock pot directions on the internet, so I won’t go into detail but briefly:
* I soaked my yarn in cold water and a little less than a cup of white vinegar overnight. Most directions I see say 30 minutes or an hour of soaking, but I think the long soak made for even coloring.
* I took my yarn out of the soaking bowl and put it in another bowl so that I could re-use the soaking water for dyeing. Dyeing is already a water intensive process so I wanted to re-use what I could. Just pour it in your crock pot after removing the yarn.
* I put the dye in the water as a base color, swished it a bit, then dropped additional color in the water, swished it a very small bit, then put my yarn in, added more drops of the additional colors, and very gently poked it (agitation felts yarn which is why I was careful). I used blue as the base color, then used green and purple as the dropped colors.
* Put your crock pot on high, put on the cover, and let it go for about an hour. Then, start testing to see if the color is exhausted (this means your yarn is colored, but the water is clear). You can use a spoon to ladle out some of the water to check if it’s clear. I think mine took a total of 1.5 hours.
* Now is the time to be patient. Shut off your crock pot and let it sit for a few hours to slowly cool. Then take the lid off and let it cool to almost room temperature. Then put your yarn in a colander and let it cool all the way to room temperature. Quick changes in temperature can felt yarn so time and patience is your friend right now.
* Time to rinse! Gentle, gentle, gentle. If you let your color exhaust properly this shouldn’t be much of a problem. I put a little wool wash in a bowl of room temperature water, put my yarn in, let it soak 20 minutes, then took another room temperature bowl of water, let it soak another 20 minutes, and that was it. Don’t swish the yarn around. No dye ran so I was confident it was rinsed enough.
*Place your yarn in an old towel and gently roll it up and gently squeeze the water from it. Did I mention you should be gentle? 🙂
* Now let it dry. My husband had a rack that he stored musical equipment in but it broke. There were two rods still intact which is great for my purposes, so I now have a drying rack! I’m sure you can drape it over a hanger in your bathroom or even lay it on a towel to dry too.
I absolutely loved the dyeing process. My favorite part was the mystery of it as a new dyer using non-commercial dye. Although I know a little about color mixing, I truly did not know how the dyes were going to react with each other and with the yarn. I was surprised to see a mostly green skein of yarn emerge from the dye pot when I used so much more blue coloring. I was also surprised how the purple stayed more intact and make little magenta speckles here and there. I was worried about them until I started knitting — they look like small accents once knitted, and not glaring spots.
The Seaforth hat, like all of Karie Westermann’s patterns I’ve knit, was a pleasure. Everything fits together so beautifully from the irregular ribbing which sets up the lace pattern, the intuitive yet fun to knit lace, and the reducing through the crown which riffs off those ssk decreases in the lace. Knitting it was a true labor of love, not only because it was a lovely pattern to knit, but because I was knitting it with yarn I dyed myself. Talk about imbuing something you made with intention!
I love the way it came out,
I adore the details,
and it’s so, so warm.
I named my creation Merewif — Old English — loosely translated to sea witch. It’s one of the words mermaid came from, and I think the color is very mermaid-y. It also honors Karie’s Seaforth idea as the pattern was named after an unhabited island in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. I got chills when I read weeks after I named it that there is Hebridean folklore about kelpies, merpeople, and other water spirits!